Movie reviews: The Jungle Book, Eye in the Sky, The Brand New Testament

The Jungle Book 4/5
Eye in the Sky 4/5
The Brand New Testament 5/5

 

On the face of it, The Jungle Book (PG) may be one of the most unnecessary remakes to emerge from Hollywood in recent times — is there anyone who hasn’t seen the animated original? — but this live-action version, directed by Jon Favreau, offers more than a nostalgia cash-in.

Neel Sethi plays Mowgli, the man-cub raised in the jungle by wolves, who must abandon the life he loves when the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) decides the evil that Mowgli represents has no place in the natural world.

With his protector, the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), no match for Shere Khan, Mowgli reluctantly turns his back on his wolf family and sets off for the safety of the human village.

It’s a story that’s darker in tone than the animated classic, and closer to the source material of Rudyard Kipling’s stories, as Favreau and scriptwriter Justin Marks explore the adversarial relationship of man versus nature.

Mowgli, capable of human ‘tricks’ (his pair of opposable thumbs ensures he’s much in demand), finds himself wooed by Baloo (Bill Murray) and King Louie (Christopher Walken) for very different reasons, although both want Mowgli’s skills for the ‘unnatural’ edge he gives them over their competitors.

Sethi provides an endearingly naif presence, as physically lithe and socially awkward as you might expect from a human boy who was reared among wild animals, while Murray and Elba are equally striking as the comic Baloo and terrifying Shere Khan, respectively.

The real star, however, is the superb CGI, which vividly brings the jungle and its creatures to life, which results in a thrilling spectacle that gives us a real sense of Mowgli’s peril and fully justifies this live-action remake.

Eye in the Sky (12A) opens in Nairobi, where a drone has identified the presence of a group of high-profile terrorists with the al-Shabaab militant group. 

Watching from Surrey as the terrorists don their suicide-bomber vests is Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), who requests a ‘kill order’ from her superior, General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman); meanwhile, in Nevada, the drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) awaits confirmation before firing his missile.

It all seems rather straightforward, if horrible in its remote brutality, until a young girl wanders into the ‘kill zone’ and sets up a little counter upon which she is selling bread. 

Is the life of one young girl worth taking if it prevents the terrorists indiscriminately killing dozens of people in a suicide bomb attack? 

This is the main conundrum posed by Eye in the Sky, which is written by Guy Hibbert and directed by Gavin Hood, although it’s by no means the only poser the audience has to answer for itself.

A gripping thriller on one level, as the clock ticks down and Powell, Benson and Watts grapple with the crude mechanics of ‘collateral damage’ and civilian casualties, the film is also an absorbing and complex investigation into the military, legal and moral consequences of waging war by remote control. 

Mirren and the late, lamented Rickman are in imperious form as they argue a hawkish line, although it’s Aaron Paul, playing the conflicted, questioning soldier with the responsibility for the actual killing, who quietly steals the show.

In The Brand New Testament (12A), God (Benoît Poelvoorde) is a malicious, capricious bully who lives a reclusive life in a Brussels apartment, inflicting pain and suffering on his human creations out of existential boredom. 

Fed up with his tyranny, his 10-year-old daughter Ea (Pili Groyne) breaks free, hacking into God’s computer and letting every person in the world know the date and time they will die.

With the fear of death erased, Ea goes out into the world on her brother JC’s (David Murgia) advice, and begins assembling a band of apostles with the intention of writing a brand new Testament. 

Written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael, The Brand New Testament is a hoot from start to finish, a blackly comic rewriting of our relationship to religion that amounts to a contemporary Paradise Lost.

Pili Groyne is superb in the lead role, a vengeful angel who combines innocence and deviousness as she gathers together the sad, the lonely and the dispossessed (plus a killer and a sex-maniac) to help her rewrite the rules by which humanity should live, while Poelvoorde is hilarious as the cranky deity who descends to earth only to find himself ignored and despised. 

Visually inventive and deliciously subversive in tone, the film is absurd, irreverent and profound, a morbidly but beautifully poetic paean to the triumph of the human spirit.


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